ANAMOSA - It didn’t take the Anamosa volleyball team very long to get into a winning mentality in the fall of 1997, and thankfully for Raider fans, it lasted all season long during that would prove to be one of the greatest campaigns the program would witness over the next quarter century.
Thanks to play from All-Big Bend Conference performers like Natalie Pilcher, Stacey Buck, Rachael Reddies, Anne Gogel and Andrea Eilertson, the Raiders rolled to a 26-6-2 overall record under first-year head coach Andrea Griffith.
Not only did the Raiders have a season unlike anything the team could have hoped for coming in (as they lost most of their starters and experience to graduation off a ’96 team that posted a sensational 22-10-3 overall record), but they also brought home plenty of hardware winning a whopping four tournament championships while finishing third in an absolutely loaded Big Bend Conference race.
“We had a great year,” said Griffith after the season. “We were not expected to have the kind of season we did, but hopefully we gave some of the younger kids some incentive to work hard because you never know what you can accomplish until you try.”
The tourney titles started immediately as Anamosa cruised to a championship at the East Central tournament in early September before traveling to a Linn-Mar event that featured numerous class 4A schools.
The Raiders handed eventual tournament champion Center Point-Urbana (a volleyball powerhouse in the state at the time) their only game loss of the entire tournament splitting with the talented Pointers to open the event in pool play. Anamosa dropped the first game 15-7 before rallying in a huge way to crush the top-10 ranked CP-U team 15-1 in the second game.
The Raiders rallied to defeat Tipton (15-13, 15-3) and against host Linn-Mar, claimed what many saw as a surprising 16-14, 15-12 triumph to advance to bracket play at the tournament.
In a re-match against CP-U in the tourney semi-finals, this time the Pointers had Anamosa’s number claiming a 15-3, 15-10 victory.
Reddies and Buck keyed the offensive effort leading the team in kills while Emily Charley (as she did all season long) paced the team in assists at the tournament. Pilcher was a picture of consistency in the back row while Colleen Helle and Buck dominated at the defensive net.
Another tournament championship followed in Lisbon the very next week where Anamosa defeated rival Monticello in the title tilt claiming a thrilling 13-15, 15-12, 15-8 victory.
The Raiders defeated Olin (15-3, 15-1) and Calamus-Wheatland (15-10, 15-3) before facing a Clear Creek-Amana team in the final match of pool play that included former Raider Cara Graver. Anamosa just continued to roll claiming a 15-3, 17-15 triumph that advanced the team to the semi-final round where they hammered Bennett-Durant in a 15-8, 15-6 final.
Reddies (28 kills on the day) and Gogel (27) powered the offense throughout the perfect day.
The following weekend saw the Raiders win their second straight tournament title, and third on the season with an impressive showing in Maquoketa.
Anamosa opened the event avenging a Big Bend Conference setback against Central DeWitt earlier in the season by taking a 15-11, 15-7 decision in pool play before knocking off Monticello (15-13, 15-12).
In the tournament semi-finals, Anamosa faced Central DeWitt once again, and again it was the Raiders coming out on top cruising to a 15-7, 15-9 rout over the Sabers.
In the Maquoketa tournament championship match, Anamosa faced perennial volleyball powerhouse Davenport Assumption, but the Knights had no answer for a balanced Raider attack as Anamosa swept to a 15-5, 16-14 victory.
“We really wanted those DeWitt matches,” Griffith said. “We owed them from conference play when they beat us in five games. It was nice to come back and beat them not once, but twice.
“Our girls have a lot of fun playing together. They’re like an extended family to me, and each other.”
After getting things going from a conference play standpoint, Anamosa hosted the final tournament of the 1997 regular season in late October, and you guessed it, held home court by winning their fourth championship of the season.
Wins over Olin (15-2, 15-4), Tipton (15-11, 15-2) and North Tama (15-8, 15-3) placed the Raiders into the semi-finals where they had their toughest test of the day claiming a 15-8, 12-15, 15-11 victory over a Belle Plaine team who were looking for a second straight Anamosa volleyball tournament championship.
The Anamosa simply would not allow it to happen, and then crushed Solon 15-3, 15-3 in the title tilt.
“We were unbelievable against Solon,” Griffith said. “It was like a light came on and we all played about as well as we have all year.”
Anamosa was hoping the momentum from the home tournament win would carry into the post-season, as the team hosted Cedar Rapids Regis in district play, but the Raiders, for the second straight year, were handed a heartbreaking defeat.
After winning the first two games (15-10 and 15-11), Anamosa fans watched in stunned silence as Regis went on a run to claim the final three games (15-11, 15-8 and 15-12) and the match.
“This wasn’t how we wanted to end our season,” Griffith said. “But we can’t just focus on this loss. We have to focus on all the positive things we did this season, and there were a lot of them.”
The 26 triumphs still stands as the most for the Anamosa program over the last 23 years.